From Backups To Starters

J.W. Walsh stood at the podium during postgame, with bright shining lights, cameras and questions being shot toward him. The spotlight was deserved. Oklahoma State's back-up quarterback was solid in his first major college football game after starter Wes Lunt went down with a knee injury on his first drive.

After all, Walsh did lead Oklahoma State to a 65-24 victory against the Louisiana Rajin' Cajuns, helping break the Cowboys' single-game program records for yardage (742) and first downs (39). With records come attention, and with attention, comes podium time.

But take this into consideration. On every one of Walsh's plays, there were only two people that were required to touch the ball. Of course, one was Walsh. The other was sophomore center Jake Jenkins. Saturday was his first collegiate start.

Jenkins didn't stand at the podium to answer questions. He slid into a seat on the far side of the theater room for postgame interviews. No bright lights for the other guy who touches the ball on every single play.

"Today was just nerves," Jenkins said. "It wasn't too bad."

But that was before Lunt went down. Before anyone had seen the photos of his knee cap shifted to one side of his leg. As an offensive lineman, your main goal is to protect your quarterback. When he goes down, there is one thing that comes to mind immediately.

"The first thing you think is – where did the guy come from?" Jenkins said.

In this case, there was no missed assignment, just a defender coming off the edge that hit Lunt just before he threw the ball. Because Jenkins was playing up front, he didn't see the play unfold. He didn't even have a chance to ask Lunt how he was doing after the quarterback was nursed to the sidelines.

"I didn't really think anything of it; we can't go back on it," Jenkins said. "We had to play with J.W."

It's easy to imagine being the center for Lunt would be completely different from Walsh. Lunt stands upright in the pocket, tall, and lets it rip. Walsh has designed run plays and often scrambles from the pocket when he throws. But to Jenkins, it's all the same.

"The quarterback is going to do what the quarterback does," Jenkins said. "I'm going to block for the quarterback. As the offensive line, we still have our assignments. There's never a situation where we think, ‘So-and-so is in, we've got to block different.' There's none of that. You stay focused, stay in the game and block your assignment."

It also helped that Walsh and Jenkins are both second-team guys in practice.

"I've played with J.W. and practiced with J.W. plenty," Jenkins said. "It wasn't a big deal."

Jenkins got his first playing time at center when starter Evan Epstein went down with a foot injury on Sept. 8 against Arizona. In that case, it was Jenkins turn to fill the second he was needed.

"I immediately went over to Wes and said, ‘Hey, let's get some snaps,'" Jenkins said. "From there, I just progressed."

It's that kind of attitude that kept Jenkins calm on Saturday. As an offensive lineman, you role with the punches when your quarterback goes down with an injury. You have to prepare for anything. But there was one thing Jenkins couldn't predict or get ready for when he ran onto the field with the starters on Saturday. It was that darn smoke that pours from out of the tunnel.

"Not being able to see for the first 50, 60 yards," Jenkins said. "The smoke was so thick."


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